OCEAN CITY – The current status of the proposed downtown parking garage was presented to the Mayor and Council at a work session Tuesday, resulting in the majority consensus it was a necessity that cannot be achieved without the partnership of the county.
City Engineer Terry McGean presented the current status of the parking garage, noting that it was more of a refresher than an update. According to McGean, the design work for the garage has been completed and conceptual designs, including floor plans, elevations, and 3-D models have been prepared. The plans call for 589 spaces, four stories of parking, with roof-level parking and an overhead walkway across Baltimore Ave.
McGean informed the council the parking garage would generate annual gross revenues of $310,000. The operation costs, however, are estimated to be $176,000 annually with principal and interest payments on construction estimated at $1 million per year.
“Therefore, unless additional sources are committed to the project, the garage would operate at a deficit of $866,000 per year,” said McGean. “Obviously in cities like Baltimore, DC, and New York, they don’t operate at a deficit.”
McGean explained the resort’s garage would not be in full use all year as is the case in most cities.
McGean presented the list of proposed funding sources to offset the deficit, which includes placing meters on all un-metered downtown parking spaces, raising the rates at the inlet lot by 50 cents per hour in the evening, a fee-in-lieu development program, which would dedicate 50 percent of all new city and county property taxes generated in the downtown area to a parking garage (informally known as the TIF concept), and a state grant to pay for half of the final design costs.
McGean reported the council requested the state funds in the last legislative session but were not approved. The council also requested county commitment to the TIF concept, but at this time, the County Commissioners have made no commitment beyond considering the project in budget deliberations.
“Therefore the project has been at a standstill,” McGean said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said, “I think the town is convinced that this is the right way to go.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic said the county’s support is integral.
“I unfortunately don’t see how we can do this without the county’s help,” said Mitrecic.
County Commissioner Louis Gulyas spoke in favor of the parking garage.
“It is imperative that you continue with the parking garage,” Gulyas said. “My thought is, is there something else going on with the city that you could put aside?”
Gulyas suggested that the Downtown Recreation Complex be put on the backburner so that all efforts could be focused on the parking garage.
“I truly feel that gridlock will kill Ocean City more than anything,” Gulyas said.
Councilman Jim Hall pointed out that the plans for the Downtown Recreation Complex were also on hold, pending a long-term lease agreement with the county. Gulyas admitted that she was unaware that the issue had not been resolved. Despite the confusion, Gulyas said that she would rather see the parking garage than the park renovations.
Gulyas explained the main reason for the county’s reluctance.
“The problem is that we have three schools on the drawing board,” Gulyas said.
Meehan replied, “And thank goodness for the Town of Ocean City that we’re able to build those schools in the county.”
Paul Wall, vice-president of Phillips Seafood Restaurant, also spoke to the importance of the parking garage.
“We need parking downtown and until we get this we are not going to continue getting people downtown or on the Boardwalk,” Wall said.
To read all the key stories of the week, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.